An African wildlife safari is a truly extraordinary experience. Many safari goers are first-time travelers to Africa and have little idea of what to expect on safari.
We didn’t know the first time we set out on safari in South Africa and blasted The Lion King soundtrack. Now with over one hundred safaris across 14 countries under our belt, we consider ourselves well versed in the field.
If you find yourself with questions on what’s about to happen – fear not! Here’s what your days on safari in Africa will look like!
A Typical Day on an African Wildlife Safari
05:00-05:30 – Good Morning
There’s no sleeping in on an African safari. Early morning is when all the safari animals are out and about. It’s before the sun and the heat of the day sets in so the earlier you wake up and are out of your tent the better.
Most of our days on safari begin somewhere between 5 am and 6:00 am. Depending on the lodge you are staying at you’ll have an early morning knock on your tent by one of the lodge employees. If you’re lucky they may have even set tea or coffee outside your tent to give you that wake up you need.
I personally don’t need much time to get ready while on safari. It’s often too hot for makeup and doing my hair – and no one cares anyway – especially not the African wildlife.
06:00 – Breakfast Time
Breakfast is often served right after your wake up call, but before you leave for your morning safari. In most safari destinations we’ve been breakfast is a communal affair and set around a bush fire while watching the buffalo roam by. You can expect pastries, fruit, cereal, and eggs for breakfast.
06:30 – Morning Activity
Right after breakfast the morning activity begins. Often for me this is a game drive through the bush while I’m still waking up. However the morning is also a good time to go on a bush walking safari if the park you are in allows that. If you’re somewhere like the Masai Mara it’s also possible to book a once in a lifetime balloon safari.
Morning game drives are a great time to catch all the animals waking up and starting their day. This is when they are most active as they are typically out grazing before the midday sun comes and it gets unbearably hot.
08:30 – Bush Coffee
On most safaris we’ve been on there’s been a stop for bush coffee halfway between your morning game drive. This gives you a chance to get out of the game viewer, stretch your legs, and wake up with some fresh coffee and chatter. Ask your safari guide to bring some Amarula so you can enjoy a true bush coffee!
10:30 – Rest Time
Morning activities tend to last a few hours. You can expect to be out in the bush for 3+ hours depending on what you see. After you get back to the lodge you’ll have a chance to freshen up and relax before lunch. This is typically when I like to shower if it’s been super hot, read a book, walk around camp, or close my eyes for a bit.
12:00 – Lunch
Lunch on safari is often served at the lodge you are staying at. More often than not lunch is also a communal meal where you can enjoy the company of the other safari guests. Although we did have the awesome opportunity to have lunch on a solar-powered pontoon on the Kafue River (pictured above).
13:00 – Rest Time
After lunch is when you have free time to do whatever you want. Whether this means a quick workout, dip in the pool if there is one, or taking a proper nap is up to you. Rest times are enjoyable and really give you a chance to enjoy the camp you are staying at. I also typically need to rest for an hour or so after that 05:00 wake up.
15:30 – Tea Time
Many African nations were colonized by Britain. This means that having afternoon tea while on safari is almost a given. We’ve had some pretty elaborate tea times where we’re often served a second lunch. (You never lose weight on safari!).
I love tea time as this means I get more coffee to keep going for the day.
16:00 – Afternoon Activity
After tea comes the afternoon activity. This means either another game drive, river cruise if you’re near a river, mokoro ride if you’re in Botswana, walking safari, or even a horseback ride if you’re enjoying a horseback safari lodge.
Afternoon activities are shorter than the morning activities given the sun typically sets around 18:00-18:30. I love afternoons in the bush as it means I’m going to see yet another amazing African sunset (they NEVER get old).
18:00 – Sundowners
During your afternoon activity, the sun will set marking another day finished in Africa. This is often my favorite time as it means it’s SUNDOWNER time! What’s a sundowner?
An African sundowner means to have a drink while the sun is setting. Often in Africa this means a Gin and Tonic and more snack items like peanuts, pretzels, and biltong. It’s another great time to stop doing what you’re doing and reflect on the day with the company around you.
19:00 – Night Drive
Depending on where you are on safari you may be able to enjoy a night game drive back to the lodge. This is your chance to spot all the nocturnal African bush animals.
Your guide will typically get out a spotlight and start searching for elusive animals like leopards, hyenas, porcupines, African bush cats, and Aardvarks. If you get lucky – and I mean really REALLY lucky you might even see a pangolin.
20:00 – Dinner
Don’t worry, there’s no way you’ll ever go hungry while on safari. African wildlife safari companies literally stuff you with food so plan on dieting when you get back home.
Around 20:00 marks dinner time. Sometimes dinners are a communal setting, or sometimes you’ll enjoy a private dinner with your party. Dinners are often served with bottomless wine, and are either three or five-course. Though, some of the more mid-range tour operators may do a buffet dinner.
22:00 – Bedtime
It’s not often you’ll find me in bed at such an early hour, but on safari you’ll be begging for a comfortable bed. These are long and early days with a lot of activity. I’m typically zonked by the time I roll into my room or tent after dinner. It’s shower time and lights out!
WAKE UP AND DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN!
As you may see an African safari is not a completely relaxing holiday, but it is an exciting and once in a lifetime opportunity. You will without a doubt have a million fantastic experiences you can only have in Africa so make the most of it!
Wake up early, drink sundowners around the campfire until you can’t keep your eyes open, and revel in all the magic that the animals of Africa bring. Then after your safari is over, head to the coast and enjoy sleeping in and the white sand beaches!
Book A Safari in Africa
Traditionally if you wanted to book a safari you’d have to go to a travel agent and have them book your safari for you. They made suggestions for camps and lodges then presented you with a large bill. Most of the industry still operates in this fashion.
However, Timbuktu is a new platform that allows you to select the lodges you’d like and see the pricing per day that way you can select the best itinerary for yourself. They will then contact the lodges and help you through booking your safari. With experts on staff, they can also provide suggestions and arrange the little details much like a travel agent.
What to Pack for an African Wildlife Safari
Overland Tour in Africa
Traveling Africa on your own can be daunting to many travelers. However, there is no need to fear with overland tour companies who will show the ropes and a great time. You can check out some of them here to compare the different companies and possibly score a discount.
Travel Water Bottle
Plastic pollution is a problem in Africa so it’s best not to contribute to the problem buying plastic water bottles everywhere. The tap water in Tanzania is generally not safe to drink, but a water purifier, like the Grayl waterbottle, works well!
However, we also love filtered water bottles in areas we’re uncertain of the water supply. Read more about favorite water bottle for travel in our post.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm.
For more professional photographs we use our Fuji XT-3, and LOVE IT.
Lightweight pants that are made from synthetic material are tremendous to have in your pack. It’s what we wear most days when traveling around Africa as they’re comfortable, antibacterial, and protect our legs from mosquitos (malaria).
We recommend neutral colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors. What’s great is they’re useful beyond Africa as they are a travel staple and we pack a pair everywhere we travel.
I like two pairs, one pair is made by prAna and rolls into capris and the other are convertible pants. For men, prAna makes the Stretch Zion Pant, a tremendous pair of hiking pants for a reasonable price.
If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Africa then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Africa.
I cannot stress a good pair of shoes enough because if you land anywhere outside of South Africa a quality pair of hiking shoes will be hard to come by. If you plan to walk around a lot get thick rubber soled shoes as acacia thorns are prone to stab through thin shoes. Cameron learned the hard way one day when he pulled a thorn out of his foot that went straight through his thin rubber sandals.
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the sun in the summer.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals.
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Most hotels will provide you with a towel, but they often aren’t suitable or allowed on the beaches. I like to travel with a microfiber towel because they are light and fold up small, and they also don’t cling on to sand our dirt. Here are a few of our favorite travel towels.
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